Free your imagination and express your original ideas
Your first book is published. Fame at last! Followed swiftly by fortune, one hopes. But will your publisher help you along the way to fame? Unlikely, unless you’re already famous. This article outlines the truth of book marketing for unknown authors, but be prepared for unvarnished truth you might find deeply depressing.
All that effort to get the book written, perfected, and published… and the copies sit on the warehouse shelves waiting for the news to get out. Book signings, lit festivals, blog tours, press releases, book trailers, social media campaigns, celeb endorsements, reviews… the publisher’s job, yes?
No. For an unknown first-timer, no. Publishers’ marketing budgets go on big name authors, not newbies. A hard fact of the writing life.
It turns out that all these promotional schemes and scams might boost your ego, but they don’t do much for book sales. Really, not much at all. And avoid book signings unless you have a guaranteed ready-made audience waiting to queue for your signature. Every author has horror stories about the echoing loneliness of book signings.
Bottom line: write the book, outline the sequels, find the agent, get the publishing deal. Swig back the bubbly, then prepare for the slog of flogging your book without much help from your publisher or the uninterested media and book-buying public. You need to be thick-skinned, innovative and ruthless to get your name known and your book talked about. It can be done. You can do it.
I’m so grateful to my long-time friend Lesley Cookman for revealing some of the secrets of a bestselling novelist‘s life. Read today’s guest blog to see what you have in common with her, and get a sneak preview of the cover of her next book (which won’t be published for months yet).
Lesley is the author of the Libby Serjeant series of murder mysteries, with the eighteenth recently published – Murder by the barrel. Each new book whizzes to the top of its category on the Amazon bestseller charts, but despite Lesley’s success, the writing life is still not easy. But it is rewarding… Read Lesley’s guest blog here – and do ask questions in the ‘comments’ bit!
You have the blockbusting idea.
You know all the novel-writing techniques.
Your favourite cousin works for a publisher.
You have all the gizmos and apps that a writer could ever want.
Your characters zap, your dialogue zings.
But you can’t get down to writing the actual, chapter-by-chapter, 80,000 word manuscript.
You want to, you yearn to, you’re excited about it… but you can’t find the time. You can’t find the motivation. HOW DO AUTHORS DO IT?
All published writers – authors, journalists, scriptwriters, dramatists – will tell you this unhelpful secret:
“Just apply your bottom to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard.”
Gee, thanks. But they’re right. It’s the only thing to do. So here are 14 ways to trick yourself, persuade yourself, bully yourself, cajole yourself into doing it. Try them all. See which works best, and stick to it.
Commit money to your book: commission a cover illustration or hire an editor.
Go on a weekend writing retreat to get yourself started. After a weekend’s dedicated work in the company of other writers, you’ll be in the flow.
So, tell me – how do you motivate yourself? What gets you to the keyboard and the top of Page 1?
…illustrated children’s book. This is a great insight into some of the challenges and solutions for writers itching to get their story told: a piece by Michael Gallant for the BookBaby blog. Read, then get writing!
The whole process of travel – on public transport, not in a car – is fraught with opportunity for storytellers.
Four flights and two train journeys in three days have made me think about the possibilities for mystery, murder, suspense and romance in the confusion of airports and stations.
Alfred Hitchcock made the most of trains in several movies, and there is the glorious example of The Lady Vanishes. Arthur Haley’s Airport, milked the drama of air travel, and the spoof Airplane! and its sequels milked the comedy potential… to the very last drop. We already have a long list of travellers’ tales, but there is plenty of scope for the rest of us.
Think of the numbers of people at any one moment in a big airport. Staff and travellers must add up to tens of thousands of people on the move; a clever murderer could kill and get away with it, even with the hundreds of cameras watching every twitch and grimace.
The romance of two people in transit, a fleeting encounter, infinite futures… the potential is limitless. An airport sees people from everywhere in the world; the poor and the rich, the celebrated and the anonymous – crossing paths in limbo, where so much is out of their control.
Airports are ideas factories. Ferries, too. The best time to watch is in the early hours, where travellers wait for hours, too tired to pretend, sleepy, out of sorts, too hot or too cold, bored and frustrated. One can spend happy hours dreaming up their stories, earwigging on their monosyllabic conversations, wondering what if and what next.
Next time you fly, give yourself extra time between connections to watch, listen and dream.
Are you ready? Got your ideas lined up, got names for your characters and your setting? How about sub-plots and your supporting cast? Are your main characters rounded and complex, or do they feel like rice paper?
Some people are admitting to an excitement bordering on panic, which doesn’t help the flow of creativity we will all need in the next four weeks.
Here, on various pages, you’ll find help in conjuring up great names, settings, real life stories to plunder, images to inspire you, character quirks for your key people… All you might need is a tiny nudge to unlock a whole world.
Raid as much as you like, and feel free to share with your writing buddies. Open to all, no catches, no sign-ups – November is mutual help for authors month.
[That’s not permission to filch, though – if you share it, do please share the credit, too!]
I’m going to be with you through the caffeine-fuelled, RSI-inducing month – my NaNoWriMo name is Abbs Pepper, so if you’d like another writing buddy, say hello.
Good luck! Happy scribbling! All power to your fingers…
With the rise and rise of the e-reader – Kindles and the like – we have seen the return of the novella as online fiction-buyers demand stories shorter than a fully-fledged novel, but longer than a short story. Enter… the novella.
To encourage entries for its novella competition, the Paris Literary Review gave its readers some links to explore the art of novella. [Please note: the competition is closed for 2012 but you have 352 days to get your entry polished for the 2013 Prize. More details here.]
According to the Encylopaedia Britannica: ““Novella, short and well-structured narrative, often realistic and satiric in tone, that influenced the development of the short story and the novel throughout Europe. Originating in Italy during the Middle Ages, the novella was based on local events that were humorous, political, or amorous in nature; the individual tales often were gathered into collections along with anecdotes, legends, and romantic tales. Writers such as Giovanni Boccaccio, Franco Sacchetti, and Matteo Bandello later developed the novella into a psychologically subtle and highly structured short tale, often using a frame story to unify the tales around a common theme.”
In a Guardian article (here) about Julian Barnes’s “short novel” The sense of an ending, Stephen King was quoted as condemning the novella thus: “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic”.
The novella as literary form is discussed in The Daily Beast by Taylor Antrim (here), as does Bliss Kern in Three Quarks Daily (here), but quoting the arch storyteller Edgar Allen Poe’s scorning of the literary novella’s reluctance to end itself.
So is the novella the sole preserve of the literary author? If it is now, it soon won’t be. Some years ago as part of a campaign to get more people reading, the QuickReads series was launched, with bestselling authors writing novellas, aka short novels, for the romance, crime and other genre markets.
On e-book download sites there are many thousands of short novels, not proclaimed as such, but boasting 40,000-60,000 words for those who want a quick, easy read. As long as they are priced right, they sell.
So if you’re contemplating a first book, don’t quail at the thought of a 100,000-word doorstop tome; kick off with a novella. Or a short novel. Or a long short story. Make up your own rules – who cares, if the story’s good?
Author Kate Harrison has done her own survey on people’s reading habits – what they love, loathe, buy and borrow, what they recommend and why. Fascinating and informative for writers, publishers and other readers.
Amongst other questions, Kate asked which three words best summed up what you wanted novels to be like. The top 4 words (number 3 and 4 were very close) were:
She also surveyed publishers and agents. Here are three of the comments made:
Nicki Thornton, of Mostly Books in Abingdon, said: ‘Readers are always on the lookout for something that really speaks to them. It takes a lot of time to read a book and if it feels like time not well spent at the end of it I think people do feel disappointed. People do seem to be looking for something ‘a little more’ out of their reading rather than something very throwaway and lightweight.’
Agent Maddy Milburn said that debut authors are having orders cut, and she’s seen an increase in the demand for accessible literary books – as did Avon editor Sammia Rafique, who called these books ‘smart fiction’. But Maddy also pointed out that how the book is marketed makes a huge difference: ‘ONE DAY is essentially a love story but was given an iconic cover that appealed to both men and women.’ Sammia also called for more imaginative engagement with readers via social networking, to tap into their enthusiasm and interests.
Agent Carole Blake loathes the ‘chick lit’ label and its connotations of air-headedness – for me, she sums up the debate in the following: ‘Books that deliver a satisfying reading experience, but also leave the reader feeling they have learned something (historical facts, emotional intelligence, anything else) will leave the reader with the feeling that they have not only been entertained but also educated – they are validating their own leisure time and carrying away something more than ‘mere entertainment.’
Have a look here at all the survey results.